Message and Memory: Keys to a Great Offsite (Part 2)
Last time, we talked about the production elements that help you deliver a message: sound, tech, and lighting. When well-managed, these are the keys that will improve audience attention, elevate presentations, and highlight what’s most important to remember. If you’re only thinking about finding a big room to fit everyone, you’ll miss these more important factors. They are table stakes for a well-produced offsite, otherwise it’s worth considering why you’re leaving the office in the first place.
This week, we’re going to go through the touches that complete everyone’s experience and provide the social fabric for the offsite: venue staff, food, and live performance.
A GOOD VENUE STAFF
In the run up to an event — even an internal company offsite – your team members play a huge role in making sure everything in your program is organized and well-coordinated. But on the day of, they should be able to be part of the team, not standing on the sidelines worrying about the catering. This is where good venue staff comes in.
We’ve tried to simplify what we see as essential to good staffing into a series of key points below:
- A good venue staff has a clear point person for the client, and that point person is continuous throughout the process. S/he gathers information and requirements from the client, but also ensures that the venue team is asking the right questions and getting the answers they need. When the day of your offsite rolls around, there are no issues left unaddressed, and everyone can go about their jobs.
- A good venue staff is not afraid to have any member of their team speak with a client. They don’t hide their production team when questions arise or create information bottlenecks by over-handling the client.
- A good venue staff knows how to challenge what you want for the purpose of creating the best product. Spaces are different, often requiring some tradeoffs between what you first imagined and what’s best in the room. The staff can help you reimagine how to do what you want in the manner that’s most effective.
- A good staff works with the end vision in mind, imagining how your program is going to feel throughout the day. Like a good composer or a playwright, they can envision how the arcs of the experience will impact the audience and help you create moments of heightened attention.
- A good venue staff feels successful when your event is successful. They also know when to tell a potential client that the space is not right for their event, but they hope to work together in the future when it is.
Summary: A good venue staff is an extension of your team. They have the expertise and attitude to produce the best experience possible and the candor to engage with you honestly during preparation. Their competence and kindness allows your team to participate fully and enjoy the offsite with you.
The worst thing to do is not offer food at all, but for some groups, offering food that’s either a) just plain bad, or b) unsuited to a day of attention and productivity is equally offensive. Barbecue, while delicious, belongs at a tailgate. Save the ribs for Sunday afternoon.
No one expects to be using multiple forks or have a James Beard Award-winning chef serving them lunch, but don’t choose the lowest common denominator. It can’t be crap either. If you go to a lot of events, you know you can tell the thoughtfulness of the host by the food served. When you are the host for your team, it’s easy to see how what you serve makes a statement to the team.
Here are some statements we suggest:
Be sustainable and clean. Choose plates, napkins, cups, and utensils with sustainability in mind. If the food you’re planning serve is likely to make a mess, you should consider other options. There usually won’t be time to clean up thoroughly during the day, so any mess you make is one you have to live with for the rest of the offsite — sights, smells, and all.
Inexpensive and delicious > extravagant and okay. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to prove you value your team, but you should put some thought into it. Great pizza and great beer can be the best thing you choose to wind down after work because it makes it easy for people to relax, enjoy, and connect informally. At the same time, a healthful, energizing lunch and good coffee in the morning can set the tone for what you want to get done that day. When presentation, temperature, and quality of ingredients are strong, a fruit platter or crudite and cheese can confound expectations.
Impress with presentation. Don’t leave the cheese you bought in plastic containers or aluminum trays. Taking the time to demonstrate care with good presentation makes everything you offer that much more enjoyable. Just like a restaurant is rated on its ambiance, the spread you set out speaks to your approach. At SubCulture, we don’t have a catering minimum, and we always let the client choose the caterer that’s best for them. But no matter who they want to work with, we encourage every planner to think in advance about how they’ll serve what they order. Even if you only plan to serve a cheese platter or crudite, thoughtful presentation matters.
Summary: Simple and good food goes a long way. Be reasonable when ordering and think about the presentation and cleanup as much as you think about the taste.
With all the preparation and presentation, it can be easy to overlook the opportunities that a live event offers. When the audience is your team, an unexpected delight can go a long way toward setting the right mood. Two ideas we’ve seen be very successful are outside speakers and live music.
Companies hosting an offsite will often bring in a coach, facilitator, or other instructor to help guide parts of the offsite program, but what we’re talking about are performances with which the audience can connect. Apartment Therapy is one of our earliest clients, and we’ve loved having such a design-forward company enjoy our space again and again over the years. What began with their “Maker Talks” events has continued into a series of engaging offsites for their team, and they’ve made an art of having simple, effective, engaging experiences. Their Founder & CEO, Max Ryan, brought design professionals in and interviewed them in conversations on stage, demonstrating their commitment to inspiring people to live a happy life at home. He’s also taken the interview chair himself on occasion, sharing his thoughts and stories in a candid format, taking full advantage of the stage and production elements to connect openly and authentically with his team in the audience. “Subculture has been our absolute go-to for offsite events and helped us grow our business downtown, where space is at a premium,” said Mr. Ryan. “There is nothing nicer than telling guests that they can step right off Bleecker Street, head down the stairs and have a drink while we curate the show.”
Perhaps our favorite at SubCulture has been the infusion of live music into an offsite, and Bluestone Lane is a great example. They’re a fast-growing company bringing Australian coffee culture from Melbourne to a number of American cities, and if you’ve been to one of their coffee shops or cafes here in New York, you understand the bright, comfortable, welcoming feeling that’s a hallmark of their hospitality. When they came to SubCulture, they wanted to create the same feeling for their team by putting the musical talents of their staff on stage. We treated their vocalists, guitarists, and singer-songwriters like the artists they are, setting up like we would for a full-length concert with a soundcheck and full tech team. We helped their own people create a ‘coffeehouse’ vibe, letting their full team feel like locals and enjoy the brand they work so hard to share with their customers.
Regardless of the kind of performance you include, it’s all a wonderful break from the daily grind. We’ve helped many of our clients bring live music into their program, and in the best of cases, everyone gets to appreciate the craft of artists with equal, but different talents from those of the people on your team. You may even have a hidden virtuoso in your midst that no one on your team knows about.
Summary: Interesting speakers and live music can heighten attention/cognition and reduce stress. Adding it to your program always achieves surprise because the audience doesn’t know what will be said or played. Take advantage of live performance to engage your team and live your brand.
HOSPITALITY & FORETHOUGHT
Overall, what we’re talking about is having a greater sense of hospitality and the forethought to make your offsite memorable. It’s not just about regurgitating data and quarterly results with slides. When an offsite reflects the character of your business, it energizes your team and makes the effort worthwhile. It’s important to remember that this serves your business objectives; it doesn’t detract from them. When we consider ‘work’ — coding, writing, selling, marketing — the only thing that’s work-related, we forget that our teams need to be treated as whole people to perform at their best. Providing these touches enhances their experience in a way that allows them to tap more of their intellectual and creative potential, and that’s our ultimate goal at SubCulture.